Huskies girls win regionals
DELTA – Take that, milesplit.com.
Said website does simulations of cross country meets and if one had done a dry run Tuesday of Wednesday’s 4A Slope regional meet, Durango would have won the girls’ competition and the Eagle Valley boys wouldn’t have gone to state.
Call it October Madness or some serious bracket-busting, but things did not go according to plan, and that’s just fine by Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley.
The Huskies girls pulled the upset, toppling favored Durango for a league championship, their first since 2005. Battle Mountain’s Mandy Ortiz won the race and is the school’s first female regional champion since Erika Ghent in 2005.
And the Devils crashed the party. The boys finished fourth becoming the first team from the school to qualify for state.
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The Battle Mountain ladies, the Eagle Valley gents and the Huskies’ David Suarez, who qualified as an individual, will reconvene at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds for the 4A state meet Oct. 29.
Huskies coach Ken Long liked his ladies’ chances from the beginning.
“To be honest, the first 100 meters,” he said. “Ask any coach on our staff. We had seven in the top 20 at the start. It was like, ‘Whoa, who are those gold jerseys?'”
A good start was key with 100 or so runners starting at once and the course narrowing into a funnel. Battle Mountain’s strategy was get out fast and run in a pack.
Another good sign was that Huskies assistant coach Rob Parish was jumping out of bushes, calling out splits and encouragement.
“Near the 2.5-mile mark, Parish was getting really excited,” Huskies sophomore Jenai Denardo said. “He’s just screaming at you that you’re doing really great.”
Ortiz said farewell to the rest of the Slope at about the 2.5-mile mark. She finished in 18 minutes, 43 seconds. That is just 7 ticks off Ghent’s school record, also set in Delta at regionals in 2005. If you are noticing a lot of comparisons to that year, that’s a good sign. While past performance does not guarantee future results, that was the year the ladies won state.
Either way, Ortiz is a league champ.
“I never really thought about it,” she said. “I don’t even know the words for it. It’s exciting we are going into state as league champions.”
The Huskies are doing so because they got everything from everyone. Denardo was a nice surprise as the team’s No. 2 runner in seventh with Val Constein right behind her in eighth. Sydney Gaylord was 11th and Nicole Marengo was 16th.
Samantha Katz (19th) and Bridgett Courtois (27th) didn’t score – only the top five do – but by finishing so well, they pushed back the rest of the field, helping the Huskies to the title.
“It was a total team effort,” Long said. “This group of girls were working together in practice all season pushing each other. We ran nine (runners) today and they all threw down. All nine were in the top 35. It’s tight group which worked hard and believed in each other.”
Suarez, a junior, will be joining the ladies at state, he cracked the top 15, making it to state for the third time in as many years.
“He’s shouldered the load for our boys’ team,” Long said. “He had a super-aggressive start. He went out with the top guys and hung in there.”
‘Underground’ no longer
Cross country is still a pretty new thing at Eagle Valley. Before 2008, Devils like Kim Smith, Jamie Fahrmeyer and Ben Rogers, who wanted to run in the fall, came east and ran for Battle Mountain, playing big roles for the Huskies.
After taking some lumps as any developing program would, the Devils put themselves on the map by nabbing the fourth and final team spot for state Wednesday.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Devils junior Gregg Salaz said. “Cross country has been sort of an underground thing. Nobody knew about it, but now we have kids going out for it.”
Salaz qualified as an individual last year, but will have a team with him in two Saturdays.
“It’s unbelievable,” said coach Melinda Brandt, who has led the program from the start. “It’s an awesome testament to how hard the kids worked. At the beginning of the year, we didn’t know what we had. We only had three varsity runners returning for the boys. It was incredible when they announced it.”
Salaz was out in front, finishing 10th. The Devils next four runners finished within 16 seconds of each other. That’s Pack Running 101.
Hunter Burnham was 28th in 17:57, followed by Nathan Maddox (29th, 18:02), Robbie Clark (34th, 18:07) and Rafael Gurule (41st, 18:13).
“I was really nervous,” Brandt said. “But the guys ran exactly like we asked them to. Gregg and Hunter played their roles and Nathan and Robbie were huge.”
Nikki Cunning finished 20th, narrowly missing out on state as an individual, but she did better her own school record with a time of 20:39.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.
Mandy Ortiz, regional champion